• 8 December 2020

Looking for the ultimate New Year’s Eve celebrations? Look no further than the Hogmanay festival in Scotland!

Hogmanay translates to ‘the last day of the year’, and it’s also the name of the biggest festival to ring in the new year in the UK! With street parties, performances and fireworks, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival is a celebration to remember! Smaller celebrations are held across the rest of the country. It usually takes place over the last few days of December in Scotland’s capital city which is also one of the best new year destinations for travellers to enjoy.

Ring in the New Year to the sound of bagpipes in Scotland

Want to wave off the old and celebrate the new Scottish style? We’ll make sure you know all about the Hogmanay Festival!

We’ll start with the basics – what is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is what the Scots call New Years Eve celebrations. It’s a time to come together to say farewell to the old year and ring in the new one. It’s the biggest celebration of the year in Scotland! The tradition of Hogmanay began centuries ago and today, you’ll experience parties, events and festivities during the multiple-day Hogmanay festival.

It is believed that Hogmanay celebrations began back with the invading Vikings. The group of Norseman celebrated the Winter Solstice and held festivities late into December, eventually turning into the Hogmanay parties that people know and love today.  The celebrations carry over into the new year as 2 January is a public holiday in Scotland!

A Scottish tradition for the new year is “first footing” (the first foot in the house after midnight). On the first day of the new year friends and family cross the thresholds into each other’s homes with a gift. The first person to cross the threshold will give you a gift representative of the year to come. These gifts range between a coin (financial prosperity), coal (representative of warmth), shortbread (food) or whiskey (good cheer). It’s believed that to ensure good luck, a dark-haired male should be the first to cross the threshold. This belief stretched back to the time of the Vikings who (after many wars with the fair-haired Scandinavians) would not have been to happy to see a fair-haired person on their doorstep!

Did you know: Christmas was not celebrated as a festival in Scotland for almost 400 years (from the 17th century until the 1950s). This was because of Protestant reformation. This meant that Hogmanay became the biggest day of the year for family gatherings!

Hogmanay festivals

Note: Hogmanay 2020 celebrations took place in a safe, socially distanced manner. This made the festivities different from the usual outlined below. 

The first festival is the Torchlight Moment or Torchlight Procession on the first day of the celebrations. You can either watch the city light-up from a scenic spot in the park. Or, you could buy a torch and become part of the ‘river of light’ that flows through Edinburgh. There are three starting points but they all come together to watch the fireworks light up the sky. These torches are Viking-like torches so you will feel as of you’ve stepped back in time and to experience how it used to be celebrated.

The Torchlight Procession starts the Hogmanay Festivals

In the evening the doors open for the Street Party, which takes place along Princes Street. This is described as ‘the ultimate party’ and you will be entertained in all shapes and sizes. The Hogmanay Street Party will be filled with street performers, DJs, artists, bands and any other form of entertainment. The finale will be the fireworks at midnight which will light up the sky and Edinburgh Castle in the background.

If you don’t feel like a street party filled with DJs and stages you can head over to the Concert in the Gardens. Tickets to the gardens include access to the Street Party because this is the golden ticket! Hogmanay Festival’s concerts have boasted famous headliners like Paolo Nutini, Kasabian and The Pet Shop Boys. Other than the phenomenal stage performances, you have a seat to the best fireworks’ display as you will be higher up and will see the city and castle below.

Fireworks are seen over Scotland’s capital

Perhaps you’d like to see some Scottish tradition in action? The Ceilidh Under the Castle is where you want to be! Be prepared to dance the year away as Ceilidh callers will be there to teach you the traditional steps. You’ll be surrounded by jigging, swirling and flinging and traditional Scottish refreshments will be there to quench your thirst and hunger. Imagine welcoming the new year with a display of fireworks and the walls of Edinburgh Castle around you.

After all the partying and celebrating from Hogmanay, the Scottish like to start their new year “fresh”. And be fresh we mean taking a swim in the Firth of Forth. Yes, you read right – they swim in the freezing water! Loony Dook sees all the party-goers from the night before, dressing up in traditional Scottish garb to shock their hangover away. If this doesn’t sound like your type of introduction into the new year – then you can wrap up and watch the Dookers Parade as they make their way along the length of the High Street.

From the 1st till the 25th of January, Edinburgh celebrates its title as the first UNESCO City of Literature with the Message from the Skies event. A selected story is projected onto the walls of the city and people need to move through the city in order to follow the story. Each projection reveals a new chapter.

Big celebrations during the Hogmanay Festivals

What to pack

There’s no beating around the bush, you will get cold in Edinburgh during December. But this hasn’t stopped all the previous festival-goers. So, you just need to be prepared with your beanie, scarf, gloves, thick socks and a warm jacket. Although, with all the people (and maybe some dancing) you may want to cool down a bit, so dress in layers that can be shed when the party gets going! December in Edinburgh sees an overall daily temperature of 5°C (41°F). And, if you plan on seeing the new year in past midnight you need to prepare for those nippy morning temperatures! But, as we said before, many have done it before and every year the cold weather is simply shrugged aside to make way for the celebrations.


You will need to buy tickets in advance! There is a limit on the number of people allowed into the festival. You can find all the essential information about the event here!

Edinburgh can get very chilly in winter

We’ve got Christmas and New Year tours planned around saying farewell to the old year (complete with festivities and adventure) and saying hello to the new one in! Why not explore some of the best winter holiday destinations and celebrate both Christmas and New Year’s among new friends and in a new country? Start planning your future adventures today!

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